“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”
“Climbing for a Dream-7 Summits” has been my personal project and journey since 2017 in where I have been in pursuit of becoming the 1st Female, Latina & Professional Boxer from Queens, New York City to successfully summit the 7 World Summits which are the highest mountain peaks in each continent, however, through the experience and events that would unfold, it has become much more than that…
My 1st of the 7 World Summits was Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), 19,341′ in 2.5 days in February 2017. My 2nd was Mount Aconcagua (South America), 22,841′ in December 2017 and my 3rd, Mount Elbrus in Russia (Europe) in October 2019.
In May 2019, I would go to Alaska to attempt Denali. Statistically, May has been the worst month to go, but my Climbing Partner at the time could only go in May, so I took the chance as life is all about going for it even if the chances are slim.
I trained for a full year for Denali and felt physically prepared, however, from the start, the challenges were relentless. We were stuck in Talkeetna for unstable rainy foggy conditions for 4 days then another 3 days in Camp 1 due to high winds and white out snow, another 3 days in Camp 2 and finally 7 days at Camp 3. The Rangers would tell us that the conditions were not going to improve for at least another week.
We had run out of food and time and made the incredibly difficult and painful decision to come down after 14 days. Our highest point reached was 16,200 ft.
I thought about all the challenges in Denali often. I vowed to return, but then then Covid-19 happened in March 2020. The United States and New York City became the epicenter of the world. Denali National Parks would not grant any permits to climb Denali in 2020.
Instead, I focused on helping my community wherever I could by volunteering at Food Pantrys helping feed New Yorkers in need through NYCARES, City Harvest & Invisible Hands. I also dedicated time to working as an EMT and working at LatinaSHARE, a cancer organization dedicated to research, outreach, education and advocacy.
During the lockdown where we were limited to stay within the limits of the boroughs we lived in, I would run a minimum of 8 miles in Forest Park in Queens. On the weekends, I would run 10–13 miles on Rockaway Beach with my sister.
On my longer runs, I would think about everything including Denali and prayed that somehow the world would normalize.
In late September of 2020, things in New York City did start to improve and domestic travel was now permitted. At the end of the year, Denali National Parks announced that they will grant permits for the 2021 season.
I told my sister that I would apply for a permit to return to Denali in June 2021 and I also contacted one of my old climbing friends as well as wrote to a few potential sponsors.
My focus for the following 6 months was on Denali. Having a degree in Health & Wellness as well as certifications in personal and group training, I have always developed training programs for my professional boxing career, competitive running and mountaineering expeditions.
My training included:
- various distance running 5 times a week
- strength training 3 times a week
- rucking twice a week
- long distance hiking on the weekends
- indoor rock climbing.
The only element missing would be high altitude training and due to the travel restrictions and my work responsibilities, that would not be possible.
6 months flew by and I felt great spiritually, mentally and physically. I found myself doing my least favorite things before an expedition which was packing and saying goodbye to my sister, dog, friends and co-workers.
I arrived in Anchorage, Alaska on May 30th and met my Climbing Partner for this climb at the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel. We didn’t waste any time and took an uber straight to REI in Anchorage and then Wal-Mart and purchased over $500 worth of food and Fuel/Gas.
From my previous experience, I learned that mashed potatoes are light, quick and easy to make, so we bought 15 various flavors of mashed potatoes as well as tuna fish, beef jerky, instant oatmeal, energy bars, candy treats, gluten free bread for me and an additional 3-days worth of frozen dried summit food options. We had enough food for at least 18 days.
The next morning on May 31st, I hired a driver to take us to Talkeetna which was about 3 hours away. On the way there, we made a quick stop and I was overwhelmed by the beautiful clear blue skies where you could see Foraker, Hunter and Denali!
There were a few people taking pictures and I overheard one of them say “Enjoy while you can because tomorrow’s forecast is calling for rain.” My anxiety instantly kicked in as we were scheduled to meet with Rangers for a briefing in the morning and then fly out to BaseCamp soon after. However, if there is rain and/or fog, they will not fly out.
Memories of being stuck in Talkeetna for 4 days in 2019 returned and I started to quickly think of what I can do.
I called Denali National Parks & Preserve Rangers (DNP) immediately and asked if they had any cancellations and if they could see us today instead of our scheduled briefing tomorrow. A lovely and helpful lady said that they may have a spot at 3pm and she would call me back to confirm.
I then called Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) and asked if they could fly us out to BaseCamp today instead of tomorrow due to impending bad weather. They said that as soon as we had our official “Climbing for a Dream” permit number, we needed to bring all our gear and weigh it and they could possibly fly us out at 6:30 pm today!
Soon after the sweet lady from Denali National Parks & Preserve called and said they can see us at 3pm. We would go straight to TAT check-in, pack our gear and weigh it. Each climber was allowed up until 125-pounds of gear before getting charged additional fees. My gear weighed in at 120 pounds.
We hurried to DNP and got briefed on all the regulations and safety as well as our poop cans and official climbing permit number.
Right after the meeting with DNP Rangers, we had a final full meal at a nearby restaurant and rushed back to TAT and were given the “okay” to fly to base camp tonight! We changed into our climbing gear and awaited to board.
All throughout the rush and craziness, I prayed silently and was so grateful that we were about to get started one full day ahead of schedule.
The flight to BaseCamp was just as emotional as the first time. Seeing the amazing beauty of the Alaska Mountain Range with snow covered caps took my breath away and filled my eyes with tears.
On Day 1: We arrived at base camp at 8 p.m. We didnt want to waste any time so we set up our sleds and began the long 6.5 mile haul with heavy sleds and backpacks to Camp 1 at 7,800′ arriving at 2 a.m. During the Sumner, Alaska does not get dark during the evening hours, however, after shoveling snow and setting up my tent, I passed out in the deepest sleep I would have in this expedition.
The next morning, there was white out conditions, so we took a rest day which would be welcomed dearly by me as surprisingly, I also woke up to having my period! I had just finished having my cycle just a few days ago, but for some reason the altitude on Denali affected my hormones and I would have my period for the entirety of the expedition.
On Day 3: We woke up early to melt snow and fill up our water bottles, eat breakfast, breakdown our tent, pack and move to Camp 2 which was insanely steep and long.
During one of the breaks we took while I was fixing my sled, I heard a voice say “Patty Boom Boom!” I was used to people calling my name in New York City but it was unusual to hear that on Denali. At first, I didn’t recognize the smiling guy behind the dark glacier glasses and hood, but I smiled anyway and said “Who is calling my name?” And then he said, “It’s me Quino!”
I instantly jumped up and gave him the biggest hug and kiss on his cheek! Quino was my first ever guide who guided me in Utah as a birthday gift from my boss at the time. It was my first ever alpine climb 6 years ago that motivated and inspired me to pursue high altitude mountain climbing.
I had climbed with Quino 6 months ago in Utah for my birthday again in December 2020 for a week of insane snowstorms. It was so good to see a familiar face during a time that I was struggling. He was guiding a group for the American Alpine Institute.
That was definitely a highlight and I had hoped to see him again as he is an amazing mentor that made me smile remembering how tough but motivating he can be.
After 7 hours, we made it to Camp 2 at 11,200’.
I was actually feeling great and excited and asked my Climbing Partner to move the next day to Camp 3, so that was the plan to move in a single carry without stashing a cache.
Day 4: We moved up carrying and hauling heavy loads to Camp 3 and 14,200′ past the notorious windy corner. Our sleds kept sliding off the ridge which created much stress for me as my sled was heavy and each time it slipped it would pull me as well. But after almost 8 hours, we got to Camp 3 and I instantly started to vomit. I wasn’t sure if it was the stress, exertion or the altitude, but all I wanted to do was sleep, so we shoveled, set up the tent and I passed out in my sleeping bag without having dinner.
Day 5: My lips were swollen, my face had taken a beating from the cold andI wasn’t feeling well and pretty much slept all day. That night, my climbing partner suggested we leave 50% of our stuff at Camp 3 and go back down to Camp 2 the next day, so I can recover better. Without hesitation, I agreed.
Day 6: We went back down to Camp 2 and made it in 2 hours since we traveled super light. I immediately felt better and my appetite returned. I had ascended too quickly and living at sea level in New York City with not much altitude training in 2020 because of Pandemic had affected me.
Day 7: We decided to take another full day of rest which helped me to eat, refuel and recover even more.
Day 8: Despite the whiteout conditions, we moved back up to Camp 3. Our tent spot with our cache was waiting for us. I felt much better and we would stay here another full day to properly acclimate.
Day 9: We went up 800 feet of fixed lines using our jumars which can be nerve wracking at times because there are other climbers and if you or anyone slips, there can be serious consequences. We went up to 16,800′ to stash a cache as we wouldn’t be able to drag up sleds anynore the next day.
Day 10: Moved up to High Camp, 17,200’. I think by far this was the hardest day thus far going up fixed lines with an ascender with a 60lb backpack and then up and across insanely narrow ridges, but we reached High Camp and according to the Rangers and weather reports, the best window for a summit was the next day, so after much thought, I would attempt a summit bid the next day without taking a rest day.
We heated up water and prepared and ate our frozen dried summit meals. I forced myself to finish my meal but I felt it sitting in my stomach like rocks. My climbing partner also felt the food sitting in his stomach and we both woke up during the night to vomit everything.
Day 11: I did not sleep a wink. I was nervous and woke up exhausted. The woman from the camp next door would not attempt a summit bid from the awful migraine she had.
I had a headache, but I had to at least try. I did not come this far to give up now. I had never in my life given up on anything.
It was insanely cold to start but we went ahead and started with the incredibly steep Autobahn; it is the German high speed highway system and it was named after a German team that had an accident there. The Autobahn traversed on a very narrow path.
I was going at a very slow pace and felt the struggle in my breathing. My climbing partner was concerned and suggested turning around. At that moment, I had flashbacks of my tough boxing competitions, of my challenging upbringing, of my running competitions and marathons where my legs burned and thought I would collapse from exhaustion, but never in any of those situations did I turn around.
After getting through the Autobahn and Denali Pass, there was absolutely no way I was turning back. I was upset for his awful suggestion, but prayed during one of the breaks and remained calm.
We arrived at the “Football Field” and the summit from there would be at least 2 hours of more debilitating steep climbing, but this was what I came for. I knew it was not going to be easy. I hydrated and kept going. I would not stop until I finally reached the glorious summit on what would be an unusual clear day where we were blessed with endless views and the bluest skies ever!
I broke down and cried at the summit. I will never ever forget the challenges, what my eyes saw and my heart felt.
It took us 2 days to descend and we got stuck at base camp for 1 day for a total of 15 days on Denali.
I will be eternally thankful for this opportunity to Summit safely on a gorgeous day. It forever changed my outlook in life and reaffirmed my motto in life, “Never ever give up!”
Special thanks to my sister, Nancy for your prayers and support, to my family, friends and co-workers from LatinaSHARE & SHARE for the amazing good vibes & contributions, to my Sponsors: Dermatone Skin Protection, Gregory Backpacks, The American Alpine Club, Big Agnes & Lole.
But most importantly, I am grateful for my Faith in God, Mother Nature and the Mountains for allowing me a Special and Safe Summit and the opportunity to shine in such a meaningful place.
After some recovery, I look forward get back to working and training and continue on this “Climbing for a Dream, 7 Summits” journey which is now much more than a climbing goal, it is a message of hope, growth and faith that I hope will inspire many to reach for their own personal goals.